When you think of jazz you might think of New Orleans or New York City, but jazz has a strong hold in the Chicagoland region as well. Certainly Chicago’s history steeped in speakeasies and swinging times helped to create a culture of jazz that only grew richer over the years. Not only did virtually every jazz great, from Ella Fitzgerald to Miles Davis, make a stop in Chicago to perform at clubs as well as the legendary Chicago Jazz Festival held each Labor Day Weekend for over three decades, but Chicago birthed its own class of jazz musicians, with pianist Ramsey Lewis and drummer Jack DeJohnette setting the pace, and pianist and composer Sun Ra living in Chicago for 15 of his most developmental years knows as the Chicago Phase. In nearby Alton, Illinois, trumpeter Miles Davis got his start and in Indianapolis, Indiana trumpeter Freddie Hubbard cut his chops, so the region is rife with talent.
Here in the region, jazz continues to blossom with local artist Bryan Lubeck who has already witnessed great national success, but his continued composition and performances only mean we can expect more good things from this treasure. Lubeck grew up in Goshen, Indiana where he learned to play guitar when his mother acquired one for the family. Although they moved around a lot, the guitar always stayed with them and so when Lubeck went to live with his grandmother and asked to take lessons, she obliged. “I went to a Mennonite woman who taught guitar, bass, mandolin, and drums. She was amazing. She took her top students on each instrument and we formed a music group and we toured, so when I was 10 years old I was playing at festivals and churches and I had at least one gig a week. It was called Patchwork Quilt and then it was renamed Small Favors,” Lubeck says.
It was in this band that Lubeck began singing as well, so when he went on to Goshen High School in the 1980s, he became part of a group called the Crimsonaires, a show choir like Glee. He earned a scholarship to college to play classical guitar and as a freshman became part of the Ball State University Singers, a group that was voted by Bob Hope as the top collegiate music group in the country, says Lubeck. “We had gigs all the time, 10 girls, 10 guys, a full band with lights and sound and we toured everywhere, including Europe and it was crazy cool. It was a ridiculous experience,” he says. In the summertime he worked an amusement park on a stage show, so after he graduated, he continued to work in the entertainment industry with a mind on music management.
Landing in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Lubeck began working for a production company and put together a band of his own. After his first show he received a call from a smooth jazz festival producer who wanted him to perform. “It was my first big break. I tried out my music in front of that audience and I got a standing ovation. I couldn’t believe it,” he says. He went on to produce a CD of his music called Acoustic Vineyard, an instrumental, and he partnered with Tabor Hill Winery to produce and market the CD. The partnership would serve as a model for the rest of his career. “I usually find a brand or a company, whether it’s Tabor Hill or Hobby Lobby who has purchased 30,000 of my CDs to sell, so that I don’t have to pay for my own CD production. My philosophy is it’s a lot easier for me to sell one person 10,000 CDs than figure out how to sell 10,000 people one CD,” he says.
Getting his music to his fans is one side of his business, but the creative end is the other. “I’m creative and write my own music but I think about it as a business. I never write with the idea that I’m going to write it to be popular, but once it’s done recording I look at how to market it. The goal of my work is to create something interesting so people can sit on their deck, put it on, grab a bottle of wine, and enjoy the music. I want them to be able to chill out without having to fast forward through a song. It’s a sound track to a wine party or chilling out on the deck,” he says. Lubeck has four instrumental CDs—Acoustic Vineyard, Vineyard Groove, a Christmas compilation for Hobby Lobby, and his latest, Tuscan Sky which has been on the top 40 list for smooth jazz for 17 weeks in a row. It features a song called “Rainin’ in the Trees,” which Lubeck co-wrote with Jim Peterick of Survivor who wrote “Eye of the Tiger.”
Lubeck, who today lives in Valparaiso with his family, describes his style as “Spanish guitar and urban grooves, a combination of layers. When I play live I have a six piece band, me on guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboardist, bass player, drummer and a Latin drummer, and a sax player. It’s not a recital. We crank out some cool high-strumming stuff and full-band versions of classical guitar with funk, and we try to deliver an experience so people don’t walk away going, ‘Wow Bryan’s a really good guitar player.’ I want them to say, ‘Wow, I had a really good time at the Bryan Lubeck show.’ If people like the feeling, if they felt good, not if they thought it was technically good, then they will want to take you home and buy your CD to sit on the deck and relax with you.”